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William Butler Yeats was an Irish poet and playwright. Check out this biography to know about his childhood, family life and other facts related to his life.

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Famous as
Poet & Dramatist
Nationality
Born on
13 June 1865 AD
Birthday
Century
Died At Age
73
Sun Sign
Gemini    Gemini Men
Born in
Ireland
Died on
28 January 1939 AD
place of death
Menton, France
father
John Butler Yeats
mother
Susan Mary Pollexfen
siblings
Jack, Elizabeth, Susan Mary
Spouse/Partner:
Georgie Hyde-Lees (m. 1917–1939)
education
National College of Art and Design (1884 – 1886)
awards:
Nobel Prize in Literature (1923)

William Butler Yeats was a famous Irish poet, dramatist and one of the pioneers of the literary world in the 20th century. The author was also a member of the Irish Senate and served it for two terms. He made significant contributions to both English and Irish literature, and is particularly remembered for his role in reviving the latter. The son of a prominent portrait painter, he became interested in literature and poetry at a young age. During his growing years he witnessed the rise of the Home rule movement and the nationalist revival which greatly impacted his young mind. He began writing when he was still in his teens and soon blossomed into a promising writer cum poet. Along with writing he was also interested in other forms of art and was deeply inclined towards politics. Along with Lady Gregory, Edward Martyn, and others, Yeats founded the Abbey Theatre, and served as its chief during its early years. Taking forward his love for politics, he served as an Irish Senator for two terms during his later years. In 1923, Yeats was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature making him the first Irishman to be honored with the award.

Childhood & Early Life
  • William Butler Yeats was born on 13 June 1865 in County Dublin, Ireland to John Butler Yeats, a lawyer turned portrait painter and Susan Mary Pollexfen, daughter of a wealthy family from county Sligo. He had a brother named Jack and two sisters, namely, Elizabeth and Susan Mary. His father was a supporter of nationalism and the nationalist movement in the country.
  • He received his early education at home from his parents and entered the Godolphin school in 1877. He was an average student though he developed a deep interest in literature and poetry.
  • After spending a few years in England, the family moved to Dublin where he resumed his education at Dublin's Erasmus Smith High School in 1881. It was during this time that he began writing seriously. From 1884 to 1886, William attended the Metropolitan School of Art—now the National College of Art and Design.
Career
  • William Butler Yeats’ initial works were heavily influenced by Percy Bysshe Shelley and Edmund Spenser, and eventually he turned to Irish mythology and folklore and the writings of William Blake.
  • He returned to London in the late 1880s and became acquainted with writers Oscar Wilde, Lionel Johnson and George Bernard Shaw. During this time he also met Maud Gonne, an ardent nationalist and supporter of Irish independence. She became his muse and greatly inspired his works.
  • In 1890, Yeats joined the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. The same year also saw the founding of the Rhymers’ Club in which Yeats was a co-founder. The club consisted of a group of London-based poets who met regularly in a Fleet Street tavern to recite their verse. Yeats then proceeded to publish two anthologies of the Rhymers' work, the first one in 1892 and the second one in 1894.
  • Along with literature, he also loved the theater and wrote several plays. He collaborated with the likes of Lady Gregory, Edward Martyn and George Moore to establish the Irish Literary Theatre for the purpose of performing Irish and Celtic plays. As a dramatist, his successful works included ‘The Countess Cathleen’ (1892), ‘The Land of Heart’s Desire’ (1894) and ‘The King’s Threshold’ (1904).
  • He also had a major role to play in the founding of the Abbey Theatre, also known as the National Theatre of Ireland, which first opened in 1904. The theatre was closely associated with the Irish Literary Revival--also called the Irish Literary Renaissance-- a revival of interest in Ireland's Gaelic heritage and the growth of Irish nationalism from the middle of the 19th century.
  • The new theatre was a great success in its initial years. Its popularity was primarily due to the association of well-known playwrights like Yeats and John Millington Synge; John Millington Synge was considered one of the foremost English-language dramatists of his era. Due to its association with many writers, Abbey gained its reputation as a writers' theatre.
  • Yeats has a deep interest in mysticism, spiritualism, occultism and astrology as well. In 1911, he became a member of the paranormal research organization "The Ghost Club" and remained interested in the subjects throughout life.
  • In 1913, Yeats wrote the preface for the English translation of Rabindranath Tagore's ‘Gitanjali’ (Song Offering), the seminal work which earned Tagore the Nobel Prize in literature that year.
  • Even though an Irish nationalist at heart, Yeats played down his revolutionary spirit and distanced himself from the intense political landscape for several years. Finally in 1922, he was appointed Senator for the Irish Free State, a position he held for six years.
  • He continued to write until his death. He was noted for both his lyrical and dramatic works, the best of which are considered to be ‘The Wild Swans at Coole’ (1919), ‘Michael Robartes and the Dancer’ (1921), ‘The Tower’ (1928), ‘The Winding Stair and Other Poems’ (1933), and ‘Last Poems and Plays’ (1940).
Major Works
  • His book of poems, ‘Michael Robartes and the Dancer’ is one of his best known poetry collections; the book includes poems like ‘Solomon And The Witch’, ‘An Image From A Past Life’, ‘The Rose-Tree’, ‘On A Political Prisoner’ and ‘The Leaders Of The Crowd.’ Another poignant poem in the book is ‘A Prayer For My Daughter’ addressed to his daughter, Ann.
  • His short play ‘The Resurrection’ depicts a discussion among three men ("The Greek" or "The Egyptian," "The Hebrew," and "The Syrian") who are among the first to meet the resurrected Christ.
  • His book length study, ‘A Vision’ is among his most celebrated works. He covered various philosophical, historical, astrological, and poetic topics in the work which is counted amongst the most remarkable channeled documents of the 20th century. The book has been compared to ‘Eureka: A Prose Poem’, the final major work of Edgar Allan Poe.
  • Another one of his popular poetry collections is ‘The Winding Stair’ where the title refers to the staircase in the Thoor Ballylee castle which Yeats had purchased and lived in with his family for some time. It included poems such as ‘Spilt Milk’, ‘The Nineteenth Century and After’, ‘Statistics’, ‘Three Movements’, and ‘The Seven Sages.’
Awards & Achievements
  • W. B. Yeats was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1923 "for his always inspired poetry, which in a highly artistic form gives expression to the spirit of a whole nation". Ireland had newly become independent at that time and he was the first Irish man to be honored with the coveted prize.
Personal Life & Legacy
  • In 1889, Yeats met Maud Gonne, an ardent Irish nationalist. He was smitten by her from the very beginning and she soon became his muse. He was deeply in love with her and proposed marriage to her several times, only to be turned down. Maud later went on to marry another man.
  • He became acquainted with Olivia Shakespear, a British novelist and playwright, in 1894. The two began an affair even though Olivia was married at that time. The affair came to an end in 1897.
  • Maud Gonne’s marriage broke down and eventually her former husband died. This gave rise to hope in Yeats’ mind that she might now marry him. Even though she agreed to have a physical relationship with him, she once again refused his marriage proposal.
  • Middle-aged by now, Yeats proposed to 25-year-old Georgie Hyde-Lees, and the young lady agreed to marry him despite the fact that Yeats was now 51. Against all odds, the marriage proved to be a happy one and produced two children. The successful marriage, however, did not prevent the writer from having romantic liaisons with other women.
  • W.B. Yeats died on January 28, 1939, at the age of 73, at the Hôtel Idéal Séjour, in Menton, France.

See the events in life of W B Yeats in Chronological Order

Pictures of W B Yeats

Books by W B Yeats

    The Book of Fairy & Folk Tales of Ireland

    by W B Yeats

Books About W B Yeats

    W. B. Yeats and George Yeats: The Letters

    by Ann Saddlemyer

    A Yeats Dictionary: Persons and Places in the Poetry of W. B. Yeats (Irish Studies)

    by Lester I. Conner

    Collected Letters of W. B. Yeats: Volume II: 1896-1900

    by W. B. Yeats

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